The Toronto Maple Leafs are set to take on the Boston Bruins in Game 7 in Boston on Wednesday and, truthfully, they deserve this opportunity. After all, while they won by just one goal in Game 5, the Leafs were the better team for the majority of the game before the Bruins stormed back in the third period. They backed that up with a second strong performance in Game 6 which brings us to tonight.
Still, the Leafs will have to play as if their backs are against the rope when the puck drops on Game 7 if they want any chance to play into the second round this year. But if the Leafs are going to get there, it’ll take a full team effort, incredible discipline and finding a way of solving two of their biggest mistakes – a slow start and a defensive finish.
Leafs Need Hot Start
Through the first six games of this series, the team who has scored first has gone on to win the game five times. The only exception to that coming in Game 6 when the Leafs gave up the first goal only to storm back with two of their own – with Tomas Plekanec scoring their third into the empty net.
But in Game 7s, anything can happen. The Leafs have to realize that playing with fire might not be the way to start such an important game. What they need is a fast start – one that will lead to an early advantage on the scoreboard and one that will jumpstart the offence the Leafs showed throughout the regular season.
While the Leafs are averaging just 2.67 goals per game through the first six games of their postseason series, they average 3.38 per game during the regular season. They scored seven more goals than the Bruins, but also allowed 18 more over the course of the 82-game season.
Now, in the playoffs, the Leafs have had some dominant defensive stands at times. While they’ve given up 15 goals in their three losses to the Bruins, they’ve only given up six in their three wins – thanks in large part to Frederik Andersen who has stolen at least two games for the Leafs.
But that becomes a slightly easier job when your team gives you the offensive output needed to win a game. In their three losses, the Leafs have scored a measly five goals. In their wins, thus far, they’ve tallied 11 goals on the Bruins. Either way, it’ll be important for the Leafs to jump out in front early if they want a chance to play in the second round.
But the Leafs will need to keep the pressure going for a full 60 minutes. Remember Game 7 in 2013?
Stay Away From the Defensive Finish
With their defence having been a question mark all season, the Leafs found a way to ride Andersen in to a top-three seed in the Atlantic Division. There’s no question that their goaltender put up some incredible numbers over the season to give this team the opportunity to play the Bruins in the first round.
Still, the defensive woes have shone their ugly faces at times in this series with defensive breakdowns, an innate inability to clear their own zone and dominance by the Bruins’ top line.
While the Leafs have been able to contain the Bergeron-Marchand-Pastrnak line in their three wins – giving up zero points to that trio in those games – you have to imagine that they will be gunning for some offence in a Game 7 setting in Boston.
While the Leafs will need to jump out to an early lead, they also can’t make the mistake of shutting down their offensive game and falling into a trap mode like they did in their last two wins.
In Game 5, the Bruins were able to tally two more goals and make it a 4-3 game before the final buzzer and in Game 6 Andersen came up with some big saves down the stretch. And should I remind you of the way the Leafs lost Game 7 in 2013 after taking a 4-1 lead? I think we all know how that went.
It will be an intense game with battles from both teams as their seasons rely on the outcome of the game, but if the Leafs want to exercise any of their 2013 demons, they will have to focus on altering both of these issues in Boston.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.